When I went to cook octopus for the first time recently, a sound-bite of Octopus’s Garden started playing a loop in my mind. I was busy enough to mostly ignore it, and only today thought about it and realized it was from a Beatles Song. (It’s from their Abbey Road album, which I must’ve listened to hundreds of times when it was released in 1969, but it was a long time ago and I may have been ever-so-slightly, um, impaired.) The story behind the song is so poignant, and the lyrics are here. [noise alert].
The octopus was for my friend Carolyn Edelmann’s Grand Aïoli dinner, which is amply covered on her blog, NJ Wild Beauty. Octopus, often in a stew, is a traditional component of this dinner along the coast in the south of France. The whole point is to cook up a bunch of vegetables and seafood, which then serve as a vehicle for the sumptuous aïoli, the garlicky mayonnaise. As my contribution, I decided it was high time I learned to prepare octopus. I read up online and in a couple cookbooks, and here’s what I learned. It’s really easy to work with cleaned and frozen octopus, and, wanting to make this a not-so-intimidating venture, I promptly bought two packages of nice small cleaned and frozen octopus at McCaffrey’s. (You don’t really need a plural form of this word, and don’t even think about calling them “octopi.”)
I looked at all sorts of recipes, including some that stewed the octopus in tomato. That was especially tempting after Tre Piani chef/owner Jim Weaver coincidentally sent a recipe in his email newsletter that he picked up on a recent trip to Italy. But I thought that a simpler preparation would be a better match with the aioli. A version from Saveur with fennel sounded good, but I knew someone else was bringing fennel to the dinner, part of a wonderful spread of many vegetables we shared. Mark Bittman’s octopus with potato from The Best Recipes in the World sounded good too. There was a nice salad at SeriousEats.com, and a lovely-sounding version with sherry at Bon Appetit.
The possibilities were endless, and that’s not even counting the many versions that involve grilling, since grilled octopus is such a staple on ambitious restaurant menus these days.
But, in the end, at the last minute, I thought of using my slow-cooker, and that was a lifesaver. I’d had to start a course of antibiotics to prevent a possible case of Lyme disease just a few days earlier, and the effects were already being felt. I’d discovered a bulls eye rash on my arm and my doctor just put me right on the medication reminding me I’d had a serious case about 15 years ago and shouldn’t risk a recurrence. Darn! (Now, at the end of the course, I don’t know if I would’ve had the energy to do the cooking and attend the dinner at all, but it’ll be over soon.)
So I did more research and found a simple recipe for Pulpo a la Gallega, a Spanish version online. I loaded up my cooker the day before the dinner, adding a sliced lemon, a splash of white wine, a quartered onion, and extra-virgin olive oil. After about three hours on high, I added the potato and cooked it another couple of hours. The octopus was very tender. The octopus was served room temperature, so it was easy to transport and I didn’t have to reheat it.